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“DANCING THE (A)CHACHA”

From the Amazon basin of Bolivia, to the tropics of North Queensland, the Achacha is a fragrant, delicious little tropical fruit, being grown right here on our doorstep. We meet the growers of this funny-named fruit that has everybody’s tastebuds dancing.

With 1,200m high Mt Elliot as a backdrop, Palm Creek Plantation is a beautiful place. Row after row of Achacha trees are separated every 150m by majestic African Mahoganies. Mango, coconut palm, soursop and other exotic fruit trees pepper the gardens, while during the wet, the tranquil waters of Palm Creek wind their way through the property. Wallabies are everywhere, as are many species of birds.

 

Whilst all a far cry from the art studios  and lecture theatres to which they were accustomed, this is the environment which attracted Helen, artist and Feldenkreis practitioner, and Bruce, leadership and management consultant, to a tree change from the south.

Born and raised in Canberra, Helen and Bruce had spent 21 years living abroad before settling in Sydney to make sure their two sons grew up as Australians. Their last posting was South America – so it was no real surprise when they became involved in growing the Achacha; a fruit from the Amazon Basin in Bolivia.

 

With a couple of partners, they raised funds from their collective friends and purchased a former cane farm near Giru, on the Bruce Highway 45km south of Townsville. Initially they managed the project from Sydney, then five years ago they moved to the plantation.

With no previous farming experience and with little documented knowledge of the fruit available, their learning curve was steep; Helen’s love of and care for the soil is what kept them going. This passion lead naturally and quickly to the elimination of chemical inputs and the use of organic and Biodynamic growing methods. Bruce, having brushed off the cobwebs, has found an engineering background often comes in handy.

Organic farming is well understood – essentially, it means no chemical inputs. Biodynamic (BD) goes even further, taking a holistic view of the farm as a living organism, with a strong emphasis on soil health. Developed by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920’s as European farmers started to note the decline in productivity due to use of chemical inputs, scientifically based BD is now seen as providing nutrient dense flavoursome food, while simultaneously healing the earth.

“We prepare most of the inputs used to grow the Achachas – using fish, kelp, casuarina tea and many other items” says Helen, who uses a large part of the packing shed in the off-season for her brews.

“The BD community cares and shares, and we have been very fortunate to link up with a very supportive network in Far North Queensland, interstate and abroad. One of BD’s open secrets is that its methods provide dramatic cost savings over conventional, chemical-based farming.”

 

Helen and Bruce have found neighbours, local suppliers, industry and government agency officials, retail stores and Councils in the Burdekin and Townsville areas all very receptive to the Achacha.

“It’s a pleasure operating in such an environment” says Bruce.

“Although we are relatively new on the local scene, we have received a lot of support. Big government doesn’t seem to have much to offer small start-ups like us, but the individuals involved are very supportive.”

And is it any wonder, when this unique fruit is so amazingly delicious? While most of their Achachas head south to wholesale markets in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, Townsville is rapidly becoming an important market. In season, December to March, the fruit is generally available at Otto’s Fresh Food Market, The Precinct Fresh Market, Big Al’s, Sprout, Lambert’s, Mundingburra IGA, Essentially Fresh and Townsville Fruit Barn.

 

Transport is always an issue however.

“With one phone call we can ship to our export markets – UK, Hong Kong, Canada – but sending small quantities of fruit to nearby towns is very complicated and usually requires personal delivery,” says Bruce.

Achacha has already gained both national and international recognition in its commercial life. It was nominated as one of 10 finalists in Berlin’s highly regarded Fruit Logistica Innovation Award of 2012, eventually taking out third place against the largest fruit companies in the world. In 2014 the fruit and the honey were nominated as finalists in the ABC Delicious awards, with the fruit nominated again in 2015; and this year Achacha Fruit Plantations is a finalist in the Gault & Millau producer of the year award.

Palm Creek Plantation also produces other products from the Achacha – honey, conserves, a drink made from the fruit’s skins, vinegar; and a chutney from its 60 mango trees, just to name a few. The honey is highly prized and is available in several of the stores which sell the fruit, whereas the other items are mainly reserved for sale to groups visiting the plantation.

So, where next for the wonderful, yet in fact, not-so-humble Achacha?

“We need to commercialise the drink” says Helen.

“It is very healthy, and also popular. We have been working on a machine to separate skin from pulp and seed, with the skin being used for the drink, and the pulp going to sorbets, ice-cream, desserts, salads and drink mixes. However a seemingly simple de-skinning process has eluded us. Perhaps there is a budding, innovative designer in the community who could come up with a workable method?”

If there is, Bruce and Helen would love to hear from you.

 

WHAT IS THE ACHACHA?

The Achacha (achachairú, Garcinia humilis) is a fruit from the tropical Amazon Basin of Bolivia. It is grown 45km south of Townsville at Palm Creek Plantation. With 16,000 trees on its 120 hectares, this was its first and is still the largest
commercial Achacha operation in the world.

The Achacha fruit is about the size of an egg, with a bright orange skin. It has a white pulp surrounding one or two seeds. The pulp, in the words of taste experts, is “sweet, tangy, refreshing – like a sorbet”. In spite of its sweet taste, it is very low in sugar – about one third that of the mangosteen (its cousin), or the lychee, rambutan or longan – and has excellent health properties.

 

GET YOUR ACHACHA LOCALLY FROM:

Otto’s Fresh Food Market, The Precinct & Willows Fresh Markets, Big Al’s, Sprout, Lamberts Fresh Produce, Mundingburra IGA, Essentially Fresh, Townsville Fruit Barn

 

The Achacha is a tropical fruit grown just south of Townsville. Described as ‘sweet, tangy, refreshing, like a sorbet’. Grown using organic and biodynamic methods and chemical free. Low in sugar, high in flavour – plus the skin makes a healthy summer thirst quencher. In season December – March and available from local fresh food stockists.

Achacha Plantation  |  Near Giru, 45km South of Townsville  |  0419 400 407  |  achacha.com.au

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